Regarding Persona 5 Localization Grievance

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Last month when I rounded up news regarding Persona 5, I made sure to include my own frustration with Atlus (JP) and Atlus USA failing to get the game out in English before the end of the calendar year. Recently, a new development has arisen that has renewed those sentiments:

Persona 5 will be out in China with Chinese Subtitles and text on September 15th.

In a world that is smaller than ever due to the Internet and globalization, English speakers will now have to survive five months avoiding spoilers to P5 with the game out in two major regions this September.

That certainly stings. Given the size of the English speaking gaming world and the growing sentiment amongst players to not have Atlus dub their localized games, seeing China get a subtitled version five months sooner than our localization feels like a knife in the back. Worse yet, the debate over whether or not P5‘s localization window is ‘acceptable’ is causing a rift amongst players in the west. I would like to address some sentiments that are commonly stated regarding this topic.

‘ATLUS GAMES ARE WORTH IT’

Atlus gets a lot of leeway from fans regarding these localization times because the games rarely ever disappoint. When you’re chugging out quality game after quality game, there will be people there to defend some of the less popular business decisions. Persona specifically has had two masterpiece-quality games from its last pair of numbered entries – even if it has been eight years since the original Persona 4. P5 is shaping up to follow in those games’ footsteps, which creates the narrative that the game will ultimately be worth the wait.

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‘OTHER PUBLISHERS DO SIMULTANEOUS RELEASES’

This is true. Persona 5‘s greatest rival in terms of sales this fall will be Final Fantasy XV. The latest entry in Square Enix’s iconic RPG series will see a simultaneous worldwide release on September 30th, whereas P5 will only be out in Japan (and now China) this September.

What’s important to remember is that as much as I and many others vastly favor Persona, Square Enix and Final Fantasy are behemoths in the industry compared to Atlus. It comes as no shock that they have the resources to do such a release.

Another title like this for comparison would be 2015’s Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. The Hideo Kojima game released worldwide last September and had an infamously large budget much to Konami’s dismay.

However, the reality is that a lot of Japanese made games that have extensive amounts of text and dialog do have localization windows – especially when it comes to smaller companies. As much I like Atlus and deeply revere the Persona franchise in particular as being the pinnacle of the medium, the truth is Atlus is more of a ‘AA’ developer and publisher than they are a AAA one.

Then again, the counter argument to this would be a game like Zero Time Dilemma which launched worldwide last week.

(Unless of course you pre-ordered with Amazon)

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‘ACCEPTING IT IS A DEFEATIST ATTITUDE’

Is it? Is it really?

It saddens me that the localization window can have such a negative impact on people to the point where they’re turned off to the idea of even buying the game because they don’t want to seemingly ‘support’ the way Atlus is doing business with localizations. To me, taking this sort of stance would imply that Atlus is intentionally choosing to have the game come out later in the west when it could feasibly have it out worldwide this September. And you know what? There may be some small truth to it being able to come out sooner (I will explain below), but I certainly don’t think that it’s done with any sort of bias or ill-intent.

Again, perhaps if Atlus were a larger company and its western branch were more than simply a localization office then, yes, Atlus could be like Square Enix or Konami and do a simultaneous release. However, in its current state, that is not the case. Atlus, as many know, doesn’t even have proper procedures in place for European publishing right now, and that’s despite being under Sega’s umbrella.

Note: It just came out yesterday that Atlus and Sega are partnering with Deep Silver to publish in Europe.

As much as it may pain someone with this stance to hear, I think the truth is that boycotting the games Atlus makes will only make it worse. The best thing that could happen to shrink these windows or possibly make them disappear is for a game like Persona 5 to be a massive success financially. If the company can keep growing by way of international demand, then we may see a larger focus and allocation of resources towards getting games out in a timely fashion overseas.

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‘YEAH BUT CHINA’

I completely agree. I get it. Like I said, when I heard that China was getting the game fully subbed on September 15th, it felt like someone had put a knife through my back. Well actually, at first I got my hopes up that it would include the option for English subtitles like some Asian region games sold on Play Asia do, but that was quickly dashed.

My understanding is that Japanese to Chinese is a far simpler job than Japanese to English – in more ways than one. Yes, the language is easier translate (and it’s being done by a Taiwan based team, no less). However in addition, I believe the Asian region game will simply be a subbed game and in no way “localized” as we’ve come to know the term in the west.

Comparatively, the product Atlus USA ships next February will have English dialog, collector’s editions at retails, and whatever else they see fit to do with the game. I would also say given how stringent the Chinese government has been with gaming until very recently, that despite China’s massive population, the American market is likely larger for a retail console game like this than the Chinese one. The reality is Atlus USA has a much tougher task localizing, marketing, and getting Persona 5 on shelves in the U.S. than the Taiwan team does making the Asian region game.

‘BUT I DON’T EVEN WANT THE ENGLISH DUB ANYWAY’

I hear you. Personally, I would prefer to play P5 with English voices because that’s what I’ve been conditioned to enjoy from Persona 3 and Persona 4. I also think the way Atlus USA casted and directed the speaking roles in those games was fantastic, so they have my trust in dubbing Japanese content unlike some other companies in gaming, anime, etcetera.

I would argue that most people that Atlus USA is marketing towards would prefer to play the game with English voices, however you wouldn’t necessarily see that reflected in the chatter on social media and message boards. This may be cliché, but I do think that those in favor of dual audio or just subtitles are the vocal minority.

However, I do agree that the game should have dual audio. Comparatively, Persona 4 Arena and Persona 4 Arena Ultimax each shipped with dual audio – though obviously with much shorter stories than a full-length numbered entry. One thing that’s been cited as a barrier to dual audio is that due to licensing, it may be more difficult or costly to get the rights to the original actors than it is to simply re-record. I have no idea whether or not that’s true or how – from the public’s perspective – it can be proven or debunked. Nevertheless, that brings us to this:

What shouldn’t happen is Atlus USA taking advantage of the vocal minority to make more money off of DLC. Not that it bothered me too much, but the amount of nickel-and-dime DLC in Persona 4 Arena, Persona 4 Arena Ultimax, Persona Q Shadow of the Labyrinth, and Persona 4 Dancing All Night bordered on ridiculous. Thankfully, Persona 4 Golden avoided that plague despite releasing in the same year as Arena. We already know P5 will have DLC that comes with the 20th Anniversary edition in Japan in the form of in-game costumes.

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If you’re willing to pay an extra God-knows-how-much to hear the Japanese voices, then that is fine by me. I think dual audio should be in the game up front based on principle. I’m not willing to pay extra for it, however.

MARKETING PLAYS A ROLE

I pondered this the morning that Atlus USA announced the February 14th, 2017 release date. I think, genuinely, an argument can be made that Atlus USA can feasibly release Persona 5 prior to the date they’ve chosen. Simultaneous release may not be possible, but it doesn’t mean that the game will be hitting western shelves as early as it possibly could next February.

Part of me wonders how much Final Fantasy XV plays a role in this. Some months ago, Square Enix sent out a survey to Japanese players on their mailing list gauging their interest in FFXV compared to P5. It was likely clear to both SE and Atlus that they would be releasing their games within days of each other and would potentially be cannibalizing each others’ sales by doing so. It’s even been speculated that SE was eyeing the week of September 15th themselves.

Now imagine from Atlus’s perspective the prospect of releasing an English version of P5 only a month or two after FFXV releases in America. Here in the west, far more people know of and play Final Fantasy compared to Persona. It’s possible that there’s been no hurry to get P5 out in the west as soon as possible if it couldn’t be out prior to FFXV. Atlus USA will also be putting the rest of its focus this year on selling Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse out on September 20th.

Then again, I may be overthinking the Final Fantasy angle. While the game can theoretically be released prior to February, that doesn’t necessarily mean it would be ready to go in October or November. I always thought that early December would be a good target for P5 just as it was for P4 (December 9th, 2008). It also isn’t uncommon to see games of the relative weight of P5 release at that time to still be available before the holidays. See for example Xenoblade Chronicles X and Just Cause 3 last year.

Even if early December was still too soon, I remain skeptical that the localization wouldn’t be ready for shipment somewhere between the middle of December and the end of January. The problem, however, is that in terms of selling video games, that timeframe may as well be a desert where nothing of significance ever releases. This past year, the only notable release in that window was Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam on 3DS – if you count even that.

In my opinion, Atlus USA tipped their hand at not getting the game to us as quickly as possible when they chose the date of February 14th. It’s very blatant that it was done to promote the idea of selling Persona 5 and its ‘Phantom Thieves of Hearts’ coming out on Valentine’s Day. I mean, come on. One of the catchphrases of the game is “Take Your Heart,” and that’s even the name attributed to the premium edition being sold in America.

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It’s good business and makes perfect sense from a marketing and public relations perspective. But for those of us who have been waiting patiently for a very long time, it’s actually incredibly annoying to see that we may be getting an English P5 even a little later than we could otherwise just so Atlus USA can tie the game in with Valentine’s Day. Had the game somehow met its original, utterly ridiculous window of Winter 2014 in Japan (which would have meant December), a February date wouldn’t be so bad. But as it stands, we’re getting a game the world has waited eight years for a full two seasons later than the native region.

It’s annoying, yes, but again, Atlus USA isn’t doing anything that isn’t a norm in the industry. If Atlus USA couldn’t get the game out before the annual drought of releases that starts right before Christmas and extends through January, then it makes perfect sense to drop the game in early February and Valentine’s Day falling on Tuesday was a happy coincidence for them.

‘BUT DON’T YOU THINK ATLUS SHOULD HAVE IT OUT EARLIER?’

I do. At the end of all this pontification and playing of devil’s advocate, my honest and wholehearted opinion is that Atlus (JP) has failed the west. Even considering Atlus’s size and resources, I remain of the opinion that the English game should be getting released before the end of the calendar year.

From what we saw at E3 and seemingly how unprepared Atlus USA was, it would seem that the localization process for the game didn’t begin until recently; perhaps after the release date was announced in Japan. There still isn’t a trailer with English dubbing. The only dubbing that’s been seen has been offscreen footage of Morgana greeting floor-goers at E3. The game is out in just over two months in Japan, but we only know of one potential voice actor for the English game.

Persona 5 likely went into development shortly after Catherine released in 2011. It wasn’t confirmed to the public until the fall of 2013. That is five years of formal development and nearly three years of marketing. You would think that with how long this game has been in the works and it being arguably the biggest release in Atlus’s 30-year history that there would have been a bigger concentration on getting the game out worldwide in the second-most spoken language globally before the end of 2016. The priority seemed to not be there.

I do not know why that is. I am admittedly ignorant and naive to how Atlus USA does its business. It would seem that P5 did not receive any sort of special treatment in being localized alongside games like SMTIV:A and Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE. Rather, from the outside looking in, they got their hands on the game and its content late in the development process and handled it the same as they always have – resulting in a five month localization window.

That’s why, even considering Atlus USA (potentially) purposefully avoiding releasing the game somewhere between late December and the first week of February, I’m not pointing the finger at them. I think everyone there wants the game out in our homeland quickly just like the rest of us.

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Rather, I think the reason we’re not seeing an English game before 2017 falls squarely on those high on the chain of command in Japan. Atlus is still a relatively small developer. I don’t want to paint an image of some massive, ambiguous corporate entity that simply doesn’t care about the west.

But still, I think the philosophy of exactly when the localization process begins and how far into development Atlus USA is allowed to begin working on games feels outdated compared to a lot of other developers. Atlus may not be the heavyweight champion in the gaming sphere like companies such as Nintendo, EA, Bethesda, et al. However, I would say they’re still on the card.

Bottom line is with how long this game has been in development and how far along it seemed to be when it was showcased at the Tokyo Gaming Show last September, I think the localization process should have begun earlier than it has and we shouldn’t be waiting until 2017 to get the game. I understand being unable to navigate a simultaneous release. That still leaves three and a half months before the end of the year. America should be getting Persona 5 in that timeframe, but it’s not.

BUY THE GAME ANYWAY

Just as it’s my opinion that we should be getting the game before 2017, it’s also my opinion that if you love Persona games – if you love playing good games in general – you should buy Persona 5 the day it releases. (I promise I’m not a paid spokesman.)

Ultimately, Persona 5 is not defined by business or politics. I cannot fathom having enjoyed the last two games but not buying this one because you’re upset about the business side of things. Over the course of next several months and between the Japanese and American releases, I am going to be spending hundreds of dollars on this one video game. Why?

Because that’s how much respect and faith I have in Director Katsura Hashino, Shigenori Soejima, Shoji Meguro, and everyone connected to creative development at P-Studio. Regardless of how I feel about the corporate decisions being made by those at the top of Atlus and Sega, I have too much respect for these creators.

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Playing games isn’t about business or politics. It’s about having fun and experiencing unique, engaging works. I regard Hashino as the most underrated director in the industry, and it’s been a joy to see Atlus be more proactive at putting him front and center with Persona 5‘s publicity. Without him, the franchise wouldn’t be what it’s become in the last ten years and we wouldn’t be waiting anxiously for P5. I’m not going to let business interfere with enjoying what he has in store next, and neither should you. After all, there’s no way of knowing how many more games like this we may ever see.

Author: Scott

Scott is a content creator, gamer, and student from Austin. At the ripe old age of 21 he discovered that the Nintendo 64 is never worth returning to and that Castlevania Rondo of Blood is the best Castlevania ever made. Can successfully rap the entirety of "Mass Destruction" from Persona 3.

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